The Social Experiments of Brook Farm, Fruitlands, and Walden – English Essay
The social experiments of Brook Farm, Fruitlands, and Walden; attempted to prove to early America that self and self-reliance can be found through nature. This required an ongoing process of removing themselves from society and the harmful effects of the masses in order to define the fundamental differences between a commerce driven society and goals of the transcendentalist movement.
The Brook Farm Institute for Agriculture and Education was created by George Ripley in 1841. The Brook Farmers chose the name for their community as it referred to the way they chose to unite labor and culture and to the way that they chose to earn their living. The transcendentalist perceived farming to be the occupation most favorable to personal growth because of its distance from the market, proximity to nature, and a promise to protect moral independence. The Brook Farmers, unlike the member of the Fruitlands, did however sell their milk, vegetables, and hay and kept their stock dividends low in order to keep enough capital to expand production. Lane, Charles “Brook Farm.” The Dial, January 1844
The philosophy of Brook Farms sought to merge the values, ideas, and spiritual matters with physical events, the union of mind and body, spirit and flesh. At Brook Farm, and in other communities, physical labor is perceived as a condition of mental well-being and health. They believed that manual labor was uplifting, and thus, every member, even the writers and poets, spent at least a few hours a day in physical effort. This was another expression of the connection made by the flesh and spirit with nature through physical tasks performed at Brook Farm. The members of Brook Farm believed that they could create a utopian microcosm of society that would eventually serve as a model for all. Peabody, Elizabeth Palmer “Plan of the West Roxbury Community.” The Dial, January 1842.
In June 1843, Bronson Alcott, along with Charles Lane, established the Fruitlands. This utopian community is located in the small town of Harvard, MA. Alcott became interested in communal living and was inspired to create such a community after meeting Lane during a teaching excursion to England in 1842. Although there were several communal living experiments in existence at the time that Alcott could have joined, he found them all unsatisfactory. For example, Alcott felt that Brook Farm, the most notable utopian community at the time, was not “pure enough.” Therefore, the members of Fruitlands, including a colorful group of people ranging from ex-convicts to nudists; were forbidden to eat meat or use any animal products including wool, honey, wax, and manure.
Unfortunately, the community could not be sustained by human labor alone and the strict diet of fruits and grains left many members sick and malnourished. Often, Alcott and Lane would go on lecturing tours to promote the community, leaving the women and children to do all the manual labor. When Emerson visited the community in June of 1843, he prophetically stated, “They look well in July. We shall see them in December.” Bridges, William E. “Spokesmen for the Self” (1971). Although the members of Fruitlands never tried to produce more goods than they could use since they believed a surplus of material goods would inhibit spirituality, they ultimately could not produce enough. The community collapsed in January of 1844.
During the spring 1845 through the summer 1847 Thoreau researched Walden, or Life in the Woods while living in a rude shack on banks of Walden Pond. The book begins as follows. “When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again.”
By opening the book in this manner Thoreau immediately brings the reader into his reality. There is no room for misunderstanding about the level of self reliance that Thoreau is speaking of with this piece. But if it seems that his opening statement is altogether too straightforward an introduction for a work that’s held up as an American literary classic, remember: it’s precisely that simplicity at which Thoreau had originally sought after. Harris, Kenneth M. “Emersonian Self-Reliance and Self-Deception Theory.” Philosophy and Literature 15.2 (Oct. 1991): 286-94
In this masterpiece, Thoreau describes his retreat from the encroaching mess of civilization and outlines his philosophy of self-reliance. The greatest of his principles is simply that nature provides that which we naturally require and that man is owned by his possessions. The human spirit has been polluted by an economic machine that only enslaves the more the individual buys in. The idea of choice is non-existent from most individual’s minds because their focus is purely on surviving in a world that bombards them with choices that only appear to be free. Bridges, William E. “Spokesmen for the Self” (1971).
When Thoreau’s two years at Walden had ended, he left with no regrets: “I left the woods for as good a reason as why I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one.” His experiment had been a success. He had learned many lessons, had taken time to examine his inner self and his world, and bad proved he could live under the simplest conditions and still be fulfilled: “I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that as one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
Because of such social experiments like Brook Farm, Fruitlands, and Walden readers get a first hand look at a complex study comprising the human mind’s attempt to discover both the obvious and obscure behind man’s existence and his place in the natural world. What seems to be the most important underlying theme is that this is an ongoing process of self examination. These various extreme attempts at dropping out of society in an effort reclaim self through self reliance define the fundamental differences between a commerce driven society and goals of the transcendentalist movement.
Final Paper Thesis and Annotated Bibliography
Final Essay Prompt:
Describe the way the concepts of the self and self-reliance develop and find expression in colonial and early American literature. Identify those specific figures or works that you see as significant and explain their contributions.
The social experiments of Brook Farm, Fruitlands, and Walden; proved to early American authors that self-reliance could of be found through nature and a ongoing process of removing themselves from society and the harmful effects of the masses.
Bridges, William E. “Spokesmen for the Self:
Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman.” (1971)
Bridges assists the reader to outline Emerson’s, Thoreau’s, and Whitman’s, dream of America as a place of self-fulfillment and self reliance through various examples of their work.
This is very interesting material that I will use to assist in creating my own ideas and thoughts on self-reliance during the early American period. I’ll will probably use work cited by these authors throughout my paper to give example of my conclusions.
Bauerlein, Mark. “The Pragmatic Mind:
Explorations in the Psychology of Belief.”
Durham: Duke UP, 1997.
The Pragmatic Mind is a study of the pragmatism of Emerson, James, and Peirce.
I plan to use information from this book to help understand the broad social and academic changes that resulted because of these authors.
Harris, Kenneth M. “Emersonian Self-Reliance and Self-Deception
Theory.” Philosophy and Literature 15.2 (Oct. 1991): 286-94
This article gives insight into self-reliance and self-deception as they relate to Emerson’s works.
I can use this article to discuss the intent of Emerson and other early American authors about works relating to self and self-reliance.
Work Cited Page
Bridges, William E. “Spokesmen for the Self: Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman.” (1971)
Bauerlein, Mark. “The Pragmatic Mind: Explorations in the Psychology of Belief.” Durham: Duke UP, 1997.
Harris, Kenneth M. “Emersonian Self-Reliance and Self-Deception Theory.” Philosophy and Literature 15.2 (Oct. 1991): 286-94
Lane, Charles “Brook Farm.” The Dial, January 1844
Peabody, Elizabeth Palmer “Plan of the West Roxbury Community.” The Dial, January 1842.
Thoreau, Henry David “Walden, or Life in the Woods.” (1854)